2009: Salazar v. Buono
Does an individual have Article III standing to bring an Establishment Clause suit challenging the display of a religious symbol on government land and, following a determination that the erection of the religious symbol violated the Establishment Clause, is an Act of Congress transferring the land to a private party an adequate to cure the Constitutional Violation?
Salazar v. Buono
Oral Arguments: October 7th, 2009
1) Whether an individual has Article III standing to bring an Establishment Clause suit challenging the display of a religious symbol on government land
2) Whether following a determination that the erection of the religious symbol violated the Establishment Clause, an Act of Congress transferring the land to a private party was adequate to cure the Constitutional Violation
Background: The case revolves around the legality of a 5-foot cross, which is a part of a WWI veterans' memorial in the middle of the (government-owned) Mojave National Desert. The petitioner in the case, Frank Buono, is a former park service employee who no longer lives in the area, but visits the park occasionally. As a Christian, he is not offended by the existence of the cross itself, but by the fact that symbols of other religious traditions could not be displayed in the area. After an Establishment Clause challenge, the government decided to sell the acre land on which the cross sits to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (a private entity).
Amicus Brief: The URJ signed onto a brief, submitted by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. On the question of standing, the brief argues that symbols convey a powerful massage which can inflict substantiated injuries and that Buono had the right to challenge the display under established precedent giving standing to one who is personally and directly affected by government-sponsored religious display. On the merits of the case, the brief argues that the government's transfer of a small piece of land to a private entity was not a sufficient accommodation, largely because the government made no effort to create a distinction, either using physical barriers or signs, between the governmental land and the private land. Therefore, any bystander could reasonably assume that the cross is stationed on government land and that the government endorses the message that the cross conveys.
For the Union for Reform Judaism's resolution on the separation of church and state, click here
For a complete listing of cases that the Supreme Court is considering this term, visit the SCOTUSWiki 2009 Case Index.